My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Aug 19

Monuments to heroes, monuments to hate

Category: Life,Opinions

You know, until recently I never gave much thought to historic monuments, particularly Civil War Monuments. I just saw war statues, I definitely never broke them into categories; Union and Confederate. I thought they were “historic,” but I never gave any thought to the individual histories behind each statue. Then Charlottesville got me thinking, then Heather Heyer’s death changed everything.

We have monuments to historic figures all over America. Monuments to people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, both great men, but men with flaws. They owned slaves, which was, sadly, a cultural norm at the time. They did nothing directly to end slavery, but they did help to found our great nation, a nation with a Constitution that all but guaranteed an end to slavery. Our Constitution appeals to our better angels, it promotes freedom and equality, it’s a document that would be read by a someday generation who would see the hypocrisy in slave ownership while swearing an oath to said Constitution. So, yes, we still celebrate our slave owning Founding Fathers, not because they were perfect, but because they were ultimately good.

We have a GIANT monument to Abraham Lincoln, a fellow who, in his early life, was known to speak racial slurs, yet would ultimately put an end to slavery. He saw the powerful words written in our Constitution, rose through the ranks of American politics, and eventually became the President who broke the slavers’ chains. Of course, we honor President Lincoln. Still, slavery wouldn’t go away easily, it was big in the American South, and the South was willing to spill a lot of blood to keep their slaves. Southern leadership broke their oaths to the American Constitution, broke away from the United States to start their own country (the Confederate States of America), and levied a treasonous war against the North. The American Civil War cost the lives of some 600,000 American soldiers, North and South combined, all because some Southern rich white men just had to have their slaves.

After the war ended in 1865, monuments went up to honor the Union leaders and soldiers who fought and died to end slavery, as well as to keep these United States united. These Union monuments absolutely belong, they represent a part of American history that should be remembered, a part of which we should be proud. Almost all of our monuments are monuments to heroes or heroism or noble ideals. Almost…

Unfortunately, we have some monuments that really don’t belong in America, Confederate monuments like the monument to Southern General, Robert E. Lee, a monument White Nationalists murdered Heather Heyer over, simply because she protested against it.

See, a majority of these Confederate monuments went up between 1890 and 1950, funded by groups of white folks, especially women’s groups, like United Daughters of the Confederacy. Part of the reasoning behind these monuments was to raise Southern morale, to romanticize what was really an ugly chapter in the Southern story. However, I think these confederate monuments had a far more sinister purpose, a purpose that even today, nobody in the South wants to acknowledge out loud. They went up during the era of Jim Crow segregation, a time before anybody even thought to march for Civil Rights. These Confederate monuments didn’t go up in war cemeteries, they went up in town squares and public parks, places where they’d be seen. Imagine being black in the South during Jim Crow; you’re not welcome, the Klan burned a cross on your lawn just last night, AND every single day, you have to walk by a monument to a man who had your grandmother whipped to death. These Confederate monuments were built to further delusions of former Southern glory. These Confederate monuments were built to intimidate black Americans.

People who argue for these monuments, like Donald Trump, say they’re beautiful statues. They’re part of American history, of Southern heritage. Absolutely none of that reasoning flies, it only demonstrates an ignorance of history. Germany didn’t build monuments to Hitler & Friends so they could remember their heritage, so they could remember his inspirational speeches, while forgetting he was an evil lunatic. They relegated Hitler & Friends to the history books, filed under The Evils That Men Do, and moved on. Germany worked toward atonement, they did not build monuments that glorified the sins for which they were trying to atone.

Our Confederate monuments are nothing but tools of revisionist historians and symbols of bigotry. They celebrate treasonous war criminals, slavers willing to kill to stay slavers. These monuments are rally points for hate groups, as we saw in Charlottesville, they inspire such people toward violence. Heather Heyer, a young woman who believed in social justice and equality is dead because a bunch of bigots decided a monument to Robert E. Lee needed their protection… at all costs.

It’s important to remember our past, it’s important to mark our wrongs in history books, and teach future generations not repeat those wrongs. We should not build monuments to the perpetrators of our most vile wrongs. Confederate monuments are monuments to hate, there is no valid justification for their existence, no matter how nuanced. The fact that the only people who show up en masse to protest their removal are hate groups is exactly why they have to go.

America is country founded on noble ideals, not vicious hate. Monuments to the Confederacy are one of our mistakes, a mistake it’s time to fix. Now.


4 Comments so far

  1. Josh August 19th, 2017 12:02 pm

    This is perfect. <3

  2. Lee Bukstein August 20th, 2017 5:52 pm

    Your thoughts are appreciated. Our American “culture”, our nation, is founded on ideas. One human, one vote. Freedom of expression. Economic freedom. Freedom of religion and freedom from religion. While these principles have boundaries, those boundaries largely evolved to protect those ideas. The event that created the greatest threat to those American ideas was the Civil War. More than one hundred fifty years distant from the Civil War, I and yourself politely and quietly tolerated the intolerable. At times some of us defended the indefensible. Donald Trump has accomplished one thing as President. He pushed our nose in it. While the vestiges of hate have a place in history, it must be a dead place, a cemetery, a museum, not the living public spaces in which America must rise to the occasion to be great. Auschwitz still stands, because we must never forget our crimes against each other. Moving the monuments to the dead places is an important task of forgiving and seeking forgiveness, even though none of us alive today were either the actual perpetrators or victims of slavery. If we do not act in recognition of our responsibility to stop politely acquiescing to the presence of these monuments, we will sadly join those perpetrators and victims in the dead past. It is time for this conversation; it is time for actions to speak even louder than words.

  3. Georgette August 21st, 2017 3:20 pm

    Perfectly written.

  4. Richard J Gopen August 30th, 2017 10:53 am

    Hello, Michael –
    I’ve read a number of op-eds and essays on this issue, and though some were well-written, they have all left me flat. Yours is by far the best I have read, and it has even persuaded me to re-think my original view that these statues should not be the “victims” of politically correct short-sightedness. While I still believe that a sampling of the best (i.e., most artistically rendered, most historically significant) should be preserved and displayed (mainly in museums) as relics of our past and not “cleansed” from our historical memory, I now agree with you that most should be removed from public display and destroyed because they add fuel to the fire of hate. Frankly, this saddens me because it is “giving in” to the baser elements of our society, as well as to the notion that “we know what’s best.”. Were it not for their hate-motivated idolatry, I would honestly have no problem with having public statues and monuments displayed to remind us ALL of the power of hate, the growing pains of our nation, and the forces of hate and division that we have (some day) overcome. And that’s the reason why I want to keep a sampling – for that brighter future when this rings more true.